Alfredo Morelos verdict: Rangers striker can be ‘unplayable’ this season if he continues to mature claims Steven Gerrard
Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos will be “unplayable” this season if he maintains a more mature approach to his game, according to Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard. The Colombian striker scored the opening goal in Thursday night’s commanding win against FC Midtjylland in the third qualifying round of the Europa League that puts the Ibrox side in a strong position as they bid to reach the play-off stage of the tournament.
Morelos’ poor disciplinary record has exasperated the Rangers manager at times given the ease with which it has played into opponents’ hands, but early evidence this season has suggested an attitude and focus that Gerrard has applauded. If Morelos sustains a considered approach, then Gerrard expects both player and club to reap significant reward.
“When Alfredo is on his A-game, he can be unplayable and help this club to be successful,” said Gerrard. “That’s what he needs to realise from a personal point of view. His A-game, on a regular basis, brings this club success.”
The five red cards Morelos clocked up last season, one of which was later rescinded, cost him his place in Colombia’s Copa America squad this summer. It may also have dissuaded potential clubs from investing in the striker, albeit that Rangers reportedly rebuffed a £10 million offer from Championship side West Bromwich Albion in the final days of the English transfer window. Certainly, Gerrard believes that the penny has dropped with the striker himself and that he now knows a shift in behaviour was necessary.
“I get my staff to tell me how the warm-up has gone because that gives me an idea how I approach what words I use to players before they go out,” said Gerrard. “[On Thursday night] three individual members of the staff said ‘Fredo is at it, prepare for a performance’. And he delivered.
“It wasn’t just his goal, we expect the goals. It was the work rate, the following of the game plan, it was the selfless running for the team. He was up against three big lumps the other night and he really took the fight on.
“Alfredo was the focal point, the trigger for us in and out of possession. He was terrific.
“He gets a yellow card on Thursday but I think his behaviour this season has been really good. We have to accept the fact he’s a physical player and is going to leave it on certain people. He’s going to fight, he’s going to hassle, he’s going to wrestle. That’s Alfredo Morelos. That’s why we all love him. I see a different focus and a player who wants to improve that side of his game. He still needs help and support from us. A performance like that is why there is so much speculation.”
Gerrard’s own stats might invite attention too. The Rangers manager has lost just two games of the 19 he has contested in Europe since assuming the Ibrox job, with this season’s move towards a second successive season in the group stages of the Europa League more plausible following the strong display in Denmark.
Completing the job in the return leg would tee up a final play-off – “two cup finals” – but the requirement for European football is more than just a vanity issue in terms of restoring credibility to the Ibrox club. With Gerrard able to tweak and enhance his squad and players rewarded with stronger contracts in recent months, the Rangers manager accepts that there is an expectancy in return.
“I think the players are bright enough to realise that this club needs European football from a financial point of view,” he said. “We are trying to do everything we can to help these players, make their environment better here, and we are trying to give them contracts that they deserve, that make them happy and make their families happy. But they are also realising that a big part of that is that they have to do well in Europe.
“Every player I sit down with says ‘I want to play for Rangers in Europe’, and I always correct them and say, no, no, no, you don’t want to go and play for Rangers in Europe, you want to go and play well for Rangers in Europe. You have got to do yourself proud, because it is a different level.”